Extract: Breathless by Amy McCulloch
At the top of the world’s tallest mountains, there literally isn’t enough oxygen to breathe. In the space of hours your body will begin to shut down. Any longer, and death is inevitable. What better place for a serial killer to find their next victim?
Struggling journalist Cecily Wong is delighted to be invited to interview famed mountaineer Charles McVeigh, conditional on joining his team on one of the Himalayas’ toughest peaks. But on the mountain, it’s clear something is wrong. It begins small – a theft, an accidental fall. And then a note, pinned to her tent in the night: there’s a murderer on the mountain…
Read on for the first chapter of Breathless by Amy McCulloch!
Cold air filled her lungs. It was strange. When she’d pictured breathing up here, she’d assumed it would feel like suffocating. Choking. Maybe, in a way, like drowning.
But it didn’t.
She could feel the sting of the wind on a tiny bit of exposed skin on her cheek, between her buff and her sunglasses, and then a stronger gust against her body, threatening to bring her to her knees.
The air was there. It just wasn’t doing what it was supposed to.
She was so tired. Her muscles struggled to work as she pushed through the snow. Not just her muscles – her blood. Her lungs. Her brain.
It was simple, really – there wasn’t enough oxygen in the air, less than a third of what her body was used to. The altimeter on her watch read that she was still up above 8000m.
In the death zone.
Her heart raced. She looked over her shoulder. Was he following? She stopped in her tracks. A hulking silhouette, a few metres above her, his ponderous steps breaking fresh snow, stalking her, chasing her. But no… she blinked and realized it was only the shadow of a cloud on the mountainside.
Without enough oxygen reaching her brain, not even her eyes could be trusted.
So is he coming? Or is he waiting below?
She didn’t think it was possible for her heart to beat faster, but it did, galloping inside her chest. Her breaths sped up too as she gulped down the thin air. She swooned, her head spinning.
What did it matter if he was above or below her?
Worry about him later. Worry about survival now.
She moved as fast as her body would let her. A thousand metre drop was one misstep away. Meanwhile, phantom footsteps haunted her from behind.
She had to get down the mountain.
And she was going to have to do it on her own.
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